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What Is Search Intent, And Why Does It Matter?

A man examining a page with a magnifying glass to explore search intent's significance.
A man examining a page with a magnifying glass to explore search intent's significance.

Search intent refers to the purpose behind a user’s online search query. It’s the reason why someone types a particular search term into a search engine.

Understanding search intent is essential for SEO. Once you know the intent behind the keywords you want to target, you can create content that matches the user’s needs.

That’s key for ranking high in search results. Google loves helpful content, and you should always look to provide it to searchers.

In this guide, we’ll reveal:

  • Why search intent matters
  • The different types of search intent
  • How to determine the intent behind a search query
  • Actual examples from our own site

Why Is Search Intent Important?

Search engines want to show users the most useful and relevant results for their search queries. Throughout the entire history of SEO, every search engine, every Google update, and every algorithm change has looked to deliver one thing – better search results.

In Google’s latest Quality Rater Guidelines, the phrase ‘user intent’ is mentioned a whopping 298 times. That’s how important search intent is for the world’s biggest search engine!

If you want to be successful with SEO, you need to understand search intent.

Even if you have a bunch of great backlinks and a super-fast website, you’ll struggle to rank for your target keywords if your content doesn’t match the user intent behind a search query.

When you understand the search intent behind a keyword, you can create content tailored to the user’s needs.

This can help you drive organic traffic to your website and attract potential customers.

The Main Types of Search Intent

It’s estimated that Google processes around 63,000 search queries every second.

Almost all of these queries can be categorized into four main types of search intent:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional
  • Commercial

Informational Intent

This is the most common type of search intent. Studies show that around 80% of total search queries are informational.

Informational intent occurs when a user is seeking information on a particular topic. For example, a searcher may be trying to answer a question or learn about a particular subject.

Keywords like Who, What, Where, When, and Why are often used in search queries with informational keyword intent.

Informational Search Intent Example

Targeting informational keywords is a great way to boost your online visibility. You can create content that answers your ideal customer’s informational queries and attract new leads to your business.

Informational content is also a great way to boost your E-E-A-T credentials as you establish yourself as an informative expert within your given niche or industry.

Navigational Intent

This type of search intent occurs when a user seeks a specific website or webpage.

Users with navigational intent may have visited the website before or are familiar with the company they are searching for. For example, searchers often include brand names in their search queries.

If you want to check your emails, you might search for “Gmail” or “Gmail login.”

Navigational Search Intent Example

Targeting navigational search queries helps you show up when your customers actively look for you online.

Transactional Intent

As you might have guessed, this type of search intent occurs when a user wants to make a purchase or engage in a transaction.

Users with transactional intent often use keywords like “buy,” “purchase,” “order,” or “subscribe” in their search queries.

If you were in the US and wanted to get flowers delivered for Mother’s Day in the UK, you might search for something like “buy flowers online UK.”

Transactional Search Intent Example

Transactional search queries are the closest to conversion. When potential customers search for what you sell, you want to ensure your service and product pages appear in the search results.

Commercial Intent

Commercial intent occurs when a user conducts research before making a purchase.

Think about the last time you made a significant purchase online. You probably turned to Google to research your options before deciding which product to buy.

Users with commercial investigation intent often use keywords like “best,” “reviews,” “top-rated,” or “compare” in their search queries.

Commercial Search Intent Example

It can be hard to rank for commercial intent queries. These users often look for independent third-party reviews of a business or product.

How To Determine Search Intent

We’ve covered the different types and why it is so important to optimize for search intent in SEO.

But how do you determine the intent behind a search query?

Analyze The Search Query

The simplest way to identify user intent is to look at the search query. The words and phrases used in the query can provide valuable clues about what the user is looking for.

For example, if someone types “gas station near me,” the intent behind the query is likely navigational and transactional. The user is looking for the location of local gas stations and likely looking to visit one.

If you don’t want to conduct your own Keyword Research, a Keyword Research service can help you determine what keywords searchers use in relation to your given topics and can also help categorize the keywords by their intent.

TIP: If you’re looking for queries with high buying intent (commercial or transactional), check the Cost-Per-Click. Even if you aren’t targeting keywords via paid ads, a query with a high CPC is a great indicator to consider when finding keywords to target organically.

Look At The Search Results

The top-ranking pages in the search results can also provide insights into the intent behind the search. The two key things to consider are the types of results that appear and the pages themselves that rank.

For example, the intent is likely commercial if the top-ranking pages for a particular query are all comparison posts and if SERP features like shopping ads appear.

For an informational query, you will likely see a featured snippet, ‘people also asked results’, and many blog posts.

Analyze the top-ranking pages to see what topics are being covered, how the content is structured, and of course, how you can outrank them!

Consider The Context

Understanding the user’s context can also help you determine their intent.

For example, if someone is searching for “coffee shops near me” on their phone while they are out and about, their intent is likely to find a coffee shop to visit.

On the other hand, if someone is searching for “coffee shops in Paris” on their laptop while planning a trip, their intent may be more research-based ahead of taking a trip.

The opportunity to convert in these two scenarios is very different.

If you’re a local coffee shop, you can capitalize on a “coffee shops near me” search with a well-optimized Google Business Profile, local directory citations, or a dedicated landing page for specific locations.

On the other hand, “coffee shops in Paris” could be searched more times by users planning a trip than by those within the vicinity. Somebody searching for this query outside of Paris’ proximity will likely find a SERP full of review sites and blog articles – a very different type of result to optimize for.

How To Start Optimizing For Search Intent

Once you understand the intent behind users’ searches, you then want to start optimizing your site and your content to target their queries and the intent behind them.

There are several key ways in which you can best optimize your site based on search intent.

Optimize Your Content

The first place to start is with your content optimization.

Overzealous SEOs might target under-used search terms for quick returns with minimal effort. This can be a great optimization strategy, but you must do it for relevant terms.

If, for example, you’re targeting keywords related to ‘outdoor fitness exercises‘, you might come across queries with very tenuous links, like ‘outdoor wood fitness trails with exercise stations for sale’.

semrush keyword research screenshot

Targeting these might look like quick wins, but if you were to write blog posts targeting those terms, they wouldn’t actually correlate with your services. The information provided might be top quality, but it won’t lead to conversions for you.

The reader’s dissatisfaction and the resulting high bounce rate and low conversion rate for the page do not serve any benefit either way.

As another example, at FATJOE we naturally get a low level of searches related to the rapper Fat Joe.

related keywords for FATJOE

If we set up pages or content to target ‘fat joe weight loss‘ we’d struggle to match the search intent (at least not without changing our brand entirely!).

If your pages don’t satisfy the actual search intent, there is no commercial benefit and, therefore, no value to you or the searcher.

Audit your content to ensure it matches the terms users are searching for. Google Search Console can provide great info on the terms your page is actually getting impressions for. You can then reverse engineer this to edit the content to fit best what users are actually searching for.

Act Upon Your Findings

Take an example on the FATJOE website. We discovered that an old blog about The Different Types of SEO Clients was generating clicks and impressions for keywords like: “types of SEO”, “different types of seo”, and “what are the 4 different types of SEO”.

The blog was around 10 years old, 200 words long, and was not meeting the search intent for these queries.

search console queries

We immediately recognized that any searcher seeing this result or clicking through to the page would not be satisfied with the content. So, we checked the rest of our blog and found we didn’t actually have an article that was relevant to these keywords, and a great opportunity presented itself!

By creating a new article: The Types of SEO Explained, we built a valid alternative to capitalize on these searches. As for the old blog about SEO clients? We saw no opportunity there, so we set up a redirect from the original URL to the new one.

Target Searchers Across All Stages Of The Funnel

This is particularly relevant for anyone conducting ecommerce SEO; make sure to target your content to searchers at every stage of your sales funnel.


This tweet from Joe Davies lays out a typical funnel for an SEO agency, along with some examples of typical search queries each level of content would need to answer.

Make sure to have content that can help your potential customer at every stage of their journey, whether they are just starting to learn about your industry or are primed to make a purchase.

At each funnel stage, the searcher will approach with a different search intent. Identify what their intent would be and how you can best serve it at each stage of your own funnel.

Meet The Searcher’s Intent With User Experience

Much like when you consider your content, you should also consider the user experience your content will provide the searcher.

Someone searching for the term ‘keyword ranking tool’ will likely be looking for an actual tool, like FATRANK, not a 3000-word post talking about what a keyword ranking tool is and how to use them.

Equally, someone searching for ‘best keyword ranking tools’ likely is looking for a round-up of different tools, like this one.

Bringing those two terms together in your reports might be tempting, but it’s vitally important not to.

The two terms, while similar, have fundamentally different intents behind them, and a piece of content that tries to address both of them would feel very confused or simply be too long to be of any use to the average searcher.

Analyze Your Metrics

We’ve already touched on this with the Search Console tip earlier – analyze your metrics and act accordingly.

Bounce rates, dwell times, and conversion rates can all be invaluable when it comes to conducting content audits for everything from your product pages to your blog content.

If you notice unusually high bounce rates or low dwell times on a piece of content ranking well, this could indicate that you are not matching the searcher’s intent.


Similarly, if a product page is underperforming in conversions, it may indicate that it isn’t properly aligned with the searcher’s needs.

Analytics metrics can be paired with search impressions data to decide how to fix a piece of content or a struggling page. You might need to rework the content to fit the searchers’ intent better or maybe even start an entirely new piece based on what the metrics tell you.

Micro Intents

Olaf Kopp from Kopp Online Marketing has actually gone one further and has broken these main pillars of search intent down further into specific micro intents.

By digging down further into the broad strokes laid out above, you can more specifically understand and then target the intent of a searcher using specific phrases and words.

Graphic from Kopp Online describing micro intents.

Source Kopp Online.

Kopp’s definitions of the broader main search intents differ slightly from ours, but the overall message (or intent) of his take remains the same.

By segmenting broader search intent definitions down into more specific micro intents, you can target specific user intents and actions with laser focus.

The more specifically you can understand the queries that bring users to your content and the intent behind those queries, the better you can then optimize your content for search intent.

Using the tactics we laid out above for intent determination and optimization alongside an even more granular approach to intent categorization, you can achieve the best possible conversion rates and SEO returns.

Approach Search Intent With Intention

Understanding search intent is critical for anyone who wants to optimize their website for search engines. By understanding the motivations behind a user’s search query, you can create content that attracts high-quality traffic.

So take the time to research and analyze the results for your targeted keywords. Use the insights you gain to create content that satisfies search intent, resonates with your target audience, and helps you achieve your business goals.

Let your users’ search intent guide your website design, keyword research, and content marketing strategy.

Whether you’re writing the content yourself or outsourcing your content writing, be sure to create project briefs that target search intent that aligns with your products and services.

There’s no point in ranking for terms if their intent doesn’t match what you offer, or at least pique the interest of your target market. Any ‘wins’ in terms of rankings will only lead to a bad user experience on your site.

But, if you can rank well for terms with the correct search intent to match your products and satisfy your target audience, then you’ll reap all the rewards of great SEO with increased clicks, traffic, and conversions.

Daniel Trick
Daniel Trick

Head of Content

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